Smart software fights computing bottlenecks

Smart software fights computing bottlenecks

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

As the demand for computing power increases, the process of multi-core process technology reaches its limits. It is possible to integrate more and more cores, even up to several hundred, but it is not efficient: the competition is increasing and overall the computing process is getting slower.

In today’s multi-core processors, operating systems allocate computing time and resources (eg, storage) to the applications without having accurate information about their real needs. Thus, in cases when multiple programs running on concurrently run on a processor, they need to compete about the right to access hardware resources. This can lead to unpredictable waiting times, which often lead to short interruptions such as jerky videos or, in real-time systems, to failure of critical functions.

In the Collaborative Project “Transregio 89”, scientists from the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU), headed by professor Jürgen Teich  are seeking solutions to this problem. Their approach: The operating system should not allocate the resources, such as computing power, to the competing programs based on inherent strategies alone. Instead, the programs are supposed to be able to specify their conditions and constraints for the use of the resources. These programs are analyzed in advance, the required performance requirements are communicated to the operating system and guaranteed by the appropriate resources allocation. A video could, for example, request four processor cores, which are then exclusively available to the video for its runtime. “This new system architecture avoids false decisions by the operating system, and guarantees for the required computing power can be enforced,” says Wolfgang Schröder-Preikschat from the Chair for Distributed Systems and Operating Systems at FAU.

So will such mechanisms enable the computer industry to get away without fundamental changes in the processor architecture in the long run? Unfortunately not. Because the new approach also opens up new challenges to ensure IT security: Once programs are entitled to reserve resources uncrontrolledly, it becomes very easy for malware to paralyse the entire computer. The program can simply claim all resources for itself, and refuse to free them. Or it can try to delete or overwrite other routines. This scenario can be compared with the computer game “Core Wars”: Computer programs residing in the memory of a simple computer are waging war against each other. The one program that manages to wipe out the other one through excessive resource allocation wins. To prevent such scenarios, IT security experts from FAU and TU Leuven (Leuven, Belgium) are working on countermeasures in a subproject. These measures call for enhanced security mechanisms built into the processor hardware. “We ensure that the confidentiality of code and data is always guaranteed through all storage levels, even if a program consumes more resources than it needs, or reads from the memory area of other programs,” says Felix Freiling from the Chair for IT Security at the FAU.

The computer scientists are sure that their approach has great potential and that computers will be able to secure the required computing performance in the future.

Transregio 89 is a special research area funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) with researchers from the Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Technical University Munich.

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